NEWTON, Mass. -- The recent grand jury account of child sexual abuse at Pennsylvania State University are as sickening as grand jury accounts of similar abuse by Catholic clergy in Philadelphia, Ireland, Boston and elsewhere, and the fact that the crimes were covered up is just as criminal, according to the worldwide Catholic Church reform movement Voice of the Faithful. But the reactions of leaders in these institutions were drastically different.
Catholic clergy for some time have garnered the bulk of headlines about sexual abuse of minors, but the fact that child sexual abuse is everywhere is evident. Sexual abuse of vulnerable, innocent children is rampant in society, and anyone who thinks that victims of abuse are lying or that abuse can happen anywhere only needs to read their anguished accounts in grand jury reports or recent media stories about Pennsylvania State University and The Citadel.
But the fact of sex abuse elsewhere in no way diminishes the failure of the Church’s hierarchy to respond appropriately when informed of such crimes. The now widely known practice of the bishops and the Vatican to cover-up of the crimes of clergy sexual abuse, to hide the predators within a clerical culture of elitism, to shuffle sexual predators from unsuspecting parish to unsuspecting parish and to reward the bishops who hid these crimes with plum assignments and cushy retirements remains a stain on our Church. We are still waiting for bishops to be held publically accountable.
The Catholic Church never has removed or even censured a bishop for hiding clergy sexual abuse—an omission clearly in contrast with the actions of the Penn State trustees. Once stirred by grand jury reports and publicity, the Penn State board of trustees acted quickly to suspend athletic department employees and to fire its president and head football coach Joe Paterno.
How sad that the Catholic hierarchy cannot apply the same moral standard as a secular organization. VOTF is aghast at headline after headline that buries the Church deeper and deeper into the muck of clergy sexual abuse. Bishops claim that protection of children is their prime priority, that guidelines and audits are doing a wonderful job of keeping children safe, that clergy sexual abuse is in the past. We know that is simply false. Just this year alone, witness Philadelphia and Kansas City.
Despite clear evidence from two grand jury reports that Philadelphia’s Cardinal Justin Rigali failed to remove priests credibly accused of child sex abuse, he was appointed special envoy to a Catholic saint’s bicentennial celebration and later allowed a comfortable retirement as emeritus archbishop. In Kansas City, Bishop Robert Finn, after being criminally charged for failure to report sexual abuse and avoiding a second criminal indictment by making a deal with the prosecutor, remains head of his diocese, without reprimand and apparently without any demand that he step down.
We can never tolerate sexual abuse of our children by priests, or lies, cover-ups and secrecy by our bishops. Mandatory reporting and disciplinary action are required. Penn State, a complex, hierarchical structure similar to the Church was able to rid itself of leaders involved in abuse and cover-up. The Catholic Church must do the same.
Voice of the Faithful
Voice of the Faithful is a worldwide movement of concerned mainstream Roman Catholics working to support survivors of clergy sexual abuse, support priests of integrity and shape structural change within the Church. More information is at http://www.votf.org.
Nick Ingala, 781-559-3360, 617-291-3495 Cell